Five detransitioners, five personal stories of overcoming gender dysphoria.
1. Time is not your enemy when it comes to medical transition. Young people with gender dysphoria are routinely presented with media that normalizes suicidal behavior. However, the reality is it’s more common for trans people to create the foundation for their medical transitions by first building their adult lives- finding a preferred career, building financial resources, and building adult support networks. Medical and social transition are tricky, expensive projects to pull off, and often having the benefit of adult insight and resources assists people in pulling it off successfully.
When we think of trans pioneers like Laverne Cox, Caitlyn Jenner, Elliott Page, or Chaz Bono: they all utilized their adult experiences to discern the complex transition choices that served them best. Waiting to build your life and make your decisions with more knowledge and resources does not mean that you are walking away from the possibility of transition. But it does increase your chances of making the specific choices- what medical interventions you choose, the communities you choose, the jobs and partners you choose- that fit your specific needs. You don’t have to feel suicidal, nor do you have to rush your decision making process, to legitimize your identity or desires. You deserve the benefits of both time and full adult autonomy.
2. There was a time where I couldn’t get dressed without having a panic attack. Ever since I was young, I felt like my body was a suit that I was trapped in. After going down the path of medically transitioning, the feelings didn’t go away, but they did change. I became even more self-conscious, always concerned about “passing” and who was judging me. Over time, I realized that my discomfort was continuing because I was the one emphasizing the distance I felt from my body.
It has been a great challenge, but I have grown much more comfortable in my skin through mindful meditation and acknowledging the amazing things that my body does. Some things that I’ve learned: Going through the process of learning more about how your body works can be a great way to inspire you to be thankful for how your meat suit carries you through the world. Another realization that helped me was truly understanding that I am more than my body.
Most people won’t judge you as much as you will judge yourself. Abandoning the overwhelming burden of trying to perfect people’s perception of you will give you the room to breathe and develop your character and who you truly are. While I still struggle with feeling at home in my own skin, I find comfort in the qualities of myself that I can actually affect and grow. I have been off of cross-sex hormones for over three years and, every day, my dysphoria minimizes and my sense of self-worth flourishes. It can get better without medicalization, but you have to take the first step in showing yourself love and compassion.
3. Hope is not something that someone, something, or some action can simply give to you; it has to be cultivated from within, nurtured like a sprout in a garden. It’s the knowledge that, despite everything, and because of everything, you will be able to handle whatever may come your way in life. But when you’re struck by dysphoria? All that hope you had built up dissolves into questions of “What now?” and “Why not now?”. It can be hard to see yourself as a strong, capable person — especially when you’re dealing with so much heartache about who you are and how you inhabit the world — but that’s what time is for: to give yourself the chance to try again!
Though you may not know it, you have so much power to do things that make you smile, all without having to change one aspect of who you are. Go to thrift stores and experiment with fashion, get involved in community activism, try something new (whether it’s going to a new place, listening to a new genre of music, or whatever fun activity you’ve been dismissing)! Each day is just another chance to make happy moments; it doesn’t have to be another thorn in your side. Each day brings with it the chance to meet the future love or best friend of your life, or to get your dream job or find your newest passion. The possibility in itself should be a reason to rejoice, not to ruminate, if you choose to see it that way. Take those chances and make them happen! The risk is worth it and you’ll be a better person because of it.
4. I started thinking that my life would have been better if I had been born a male when I was 8 years old. I felt different from other girls and had trouble making friends. I could not imagine growing up to be a woman, because I thought this meant I would have to dress a certain way, and act a certain way, which seemed totally alien to me. Adults told me that I would naturally want to do these things once I went through puberty, and that made me scared to go through puberty, because I thought it would turn me into a different person. If someone had offered me drugs to stop my puberty then, I would have taken them. Fortunately, this was in the 1990s, and that was not an option then. My main fear about puberty turned out to be false, it did not change my personality.
When I was 15, I read about gender transition, and decided that this was something I needed to do. At that time there were only a few gender clinics, and they only prescribed hormones to adults. I socially transitioned, and at first I felt a sense of relief, but this wore off quickly, and I found it frusterating passing as male but looking younger than I actually was. I spent the next few years so focussed on what I thought the hormones were going to do for me that I could not function in daily life.
I felt great the first year on testosterone, but then I developed health problems which I realized would only get worse if I continued taking it. I struggled with the decision to go off of testosterone, because I had been led to believe that this was the only treatment available for my dysphoria, and that I literally couldn’t live without this treatment. Eventually, at the age of 23, I went off of testosterone, and stayed off of it. Although I discontinued my transition for health reasons, and not because of anything having to do with how I saw myself, I realized that the people who had affirmed my gender dysphoria and desire to transition had essentially encouraged me to disregard my health. I distanced myself from everything that had to do with transgender. I detransitioned, although this word did not exist at that time. I realized that my body had never been my enemy, and that simply being female does not mean that I have to be feminine or live according to gender stereotypes.
I am 37 years old now, and I no longer suffer from gender dysphoria, but I did, and it was more than just a phase, it consumed my entire adolescence. In retrospect, my belief that I needed to medically transition in order to overcome my gender dysphoria was what kept me from moving past it, once I decided that continuing to pursue medical transition was no longer an option, for health reasons, the sense of urgency faded. Once I no longer centered my life around a false hope, and an unattainable goal, I awoke to a multitude of things, big and small, that I could be grateful for.
5. My message to all the trans teens suffering from gender dysphoria and freaked out right now: When I was younger and transitioning, I felt crushed by the fear that if I didn’t transition, I was likely to commit suicide. That was really frightening. It’s also not true. Dysphoria lies to you. If you are gender dysphoric, you aren’t doomed to kill yourself, I promise. There are ways to get relief from gender dysphoria and discomfort without transition, and you can start learning them right now.
Next time you are feeling very dysphoric, don’t despair. Refocus on something that fills you with peace. The wisest dysphoria advice I ever found was from a trans man who said he helped his social dysphoria by getting a dog to take on walks with him. He redirected his attention towards a dog he could love and talk to other people about. If you’re crawling out of your skin, pour your energy into something else. Hobbies, studies, baking bread, cross-stitch, dancing. It sounds too simple, but I promise you can do it. Life gets bigger and better when you naturally are able to focus on things other than your gender identity. Even if you transition later, your life will be richer for having developed these coping skills.
This post originally appeared here.
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